Always one of my bigger months in terms of viewing numbers, this January was no different. It’s a pretty wide range this month, with a couple that would end up on my end of year lists, some acclaimed art house entries that fell a little flat for me, a bunch of disappointing horror flicks and plenty more. Actually this month is notable for the fact that I suspect it is the most ‘not worth watching’ films in a single month. Take a read and share your thoughts in the comments section below.
- Zombeavers (2014), Jordan Rubin – My expectations for a film for that title were utterly sky high. And it at least partially delivers. The opening is exceptional. Bloody, funny, silly 80s inspired slasher riffing. It’s set on a lake of course and toys with slasher convention such as the use of killer’s eye view. It does taper off a little, but there are fun and very funny moments at regular intervals.
- The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014), Peter Jackson – I do think some of the derision aimed at this film is a bit premeditated. This is flawed and not as good as the second film. But it’s still really excellent large scale fantasy filmmaking to be thankful for. The main issue is that it feels like the stakes in this are the lowest of any of the Middle Earth films. But the main battle, which is basically what the film is all about, is pretty innovative and exhilarating with some definite shocks in there too. I definitely did not see some of the deaths coming.
- Starred Up (2013), David Mackenzie – A very matter of fact British prison film. Like any great prison flick, it illustrates the various power structures that are inherent in the institutions as a concept. Young lead Jack O’Connell is really good, bringing the requisite muscular intensity to his role. Ben Mendehlson though steals the show a bit. He’s fuckin explosive here. It’s a relatively lean film, without a strong plot. But the themes of power and father/son relationships negate the need for one. Gritty.
- Community Season 4 (2013), Dan Harmon – I think this is a bit of an underrated series overall. The supposed down-points are not quite as pronounced for me as others. Tis nice to see Gillian Jacobs’ Britta back at the forefront a little more, just as she was right back at the start. The casting throughout is excellent, with people like Ken Jeong and Jim Rash doing stunningly hilarious work. It brings major laughs, but is whip smart as well, both inverting and conforming to the structure and norms of a comedy series.
- Big Hero 6 (2014), Don Hall & Chris Williams – Disney are just miles out in front of Pixar at the moment and are crushing them with a really diverse range of stories. This is a wonderfully geeky adventure story, with some really heavy moments thematically. Mortality and power are both explored on a number of occasions. It balances fun and depth well, assisted by a supporting cast of fully formed characters. Both a superhero film and an exceptional adventure tale.
Not Worth Watching:
- Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) Abdellatif Kechiche – The film situates itself firmly in teenhood, but at time does not ring true in that regard (a teenager in France not knowing lesbians exist, really?). The infamous sex scenes are wonderfully shot and it is notable for how realistic they are. The best aspects of the film revolve around intimacy, with Adele’s resultant sexual awakening feels the freshest of anything. Most of the rest is just far, far too talky and the audience is for some reason not privy to some of the most important parts of the relationship arc.
- All is Lost (2013), J.C. Chandor – This is muted, understated stuff for the most part. There’s much to respect: the quiet and solitude of the film, Redford’s piece of singular acting and the procedural focus that the movie takes. But I struggle with these films so reliant on monumentally ill-equipped sailors. This dude can barely even use a radio or navigate using a compass. Overall it’s a frustrating experience, with a few silly sequences betraying the rest of the film.
- Nurse (2013), Douglas Aarniokoski – A Dexter style ‘righteous’ serial killer in the health profession is an interesting horror concept. It is not rendered particularly well here though. There is a certain sexiness to it early on. But the acting, including from the usually decent Paz de la Huerta, is abysmal. Some promising, borderline feminist schlockiness, quickly gives way to awful effects and troubling plot utilisations of rape. Also abandons its premise almost immediately and delivers something much less interesting.
- Tim’s Vermeer (2013), Teller – Think I’m one of the few who did not dig this film. There’s some good stuff here – crippling self doubt of an artist, or a ‘regular joe’ in this case, the intriguing idea of Vermeer using tech and engaging sequences of the painting process. But it’s a pretty ugly film, not at all cinematic in its make-up. The major issue for me though was that I just could not get past the notion that Tim is just a very rich, very privileged dude playing with his toys and stroking his intellectual ego.
- St Vincent (2014), Theodore Melfi – Totally dire. Takes a special brand of material to make such a charismatic cast so overwhelmingly bland. Bill Murray shows occasional glimpses of his spark. But Melissa McCarthy, one of my favourite actresses, is totally wasted. Naomi Watts fares no better, as a Russian sex worker she is face-slappingly awful. It aims for quirky, heartfelt and hilarious. With this script though, it is far away from any of those things.
- Afflicted (2013), Derek Lee & Clif Prowse – Given how strongly it starts makes how poor this film ends up all the more disappointing. The ‘Youtube doco team’ structure and excellent acting early on are both refreshing. But it fails to scare and the life of a vampire aspects feel so sluggish, despite the occasional interesting note being hit as they look for their next ‘fix’. Then horror focused middle section turns into a shitty first person action film.
- The Water Diviner (2014), Russel Crowe – This really is the worst of Aussie film. Bland beyond belief, designed to be as unchallenging as possible. It’s almost uniformly average, aside from the occasional jaw-dropping piece of awfulness. A couple of slow-motion scenes and a comical CG fire fit the bill. For the most part, especially in the early battle scenes, this is a cheap looking film. Actually it reminded me a lot of a mid-90s TV mini-series ‘event’, both in regards to looks and plot.
- The Armstrong Lie (2013), Alex Gibney – Gibney is more or less without peer in terms of documentary making, but even he struggles to overcome the sheer sliminess of his subject. Even now, the introspection of what he has done seems more or less lacking in Armstrong. So whilst we get a solid portrait of a scumbag, one who has no qualms about abusing his power to further himself and a glimpse at just how disingenuous a human being can be, that’s not quite enough. It’s quite staid and uncreative in its construction compared to Gibney’s best, and Armstrong perhaps gets off a little easier than he should have. An unfocused film.
- The Double (2013), Richard Ayoade – This is one of a number of recent films that have just felt like ‘Gilliam-lite’ to me. The worldbuilding here is slack and uninnovative. Jesse Eisenberg plays one of those annoying characters to whom everything bad happens. The doppelganger construct at the heart of the film is a little clumsily handled and is taken the most obvious places. The film also feels a little insincere, filled to the brim with faux quirk. Of note though are the excellent performances from both Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska.
- See No Evil 2 (2014), Jen & Sylvia Soska – The delightful old school slasher vibe of the first briefly carries over, especially with the morgue setting. However the awful script and acting quickly overwhelms proceedings. The kills are strangely structured too, balance between what to show and what to hide feels out of whack and the attempts to create tension are lame. Given I loved the first film and have heard so many positive things about the Soskas, this was a major disappointment.
- Birdman (2014), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – I liked a lot of the elements of this film. The performances from Keaton, Norton, Stone and I think an underrated Watts are all excellent. The score is innovative, the distorted, old sounding drums were a unique backing to the film and its style. But stylistically I wasn’t moved by it and the faux one-shot technique is barely noticeable. Thematically I could see all the points being made about ego, the plight of the artist and the role of the critic, but they just did not resonate with me. There’s not much of a narrative here either, and what there is just serves as a frame to hang thematic elements from.
If you only have time to watch one Big Hero 6
Avoid at all costs The Water Diviner